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      F I E L D  T R I P S

OCTOBER 9, 2003

October 8, 2003: American League Divisional Series
Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium

Another Theory Shot to Hell

So much for the theory about the Yankees being well-rested compared to the haggard Red Sox entering the American League Championship Series. Yankee starter Mike Mussina looked more rusted than rested from seven days off, and the Yank bats were baffled by Sox starter Tim Wakefield's knuckler as Boston took the first game of this highly anticipated series, 5-2.

Just as last week against the Minnesota Twins, the game-time temperature was unseasonably warm — 67 degrees. But there was no mistaking this for anything but an October affair, not with the bombastic pregame ceremonies which included Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson, throwing out the first pitch, a very confused bald eagle and an ear-splitting F-14 flyover. Not with 56,281 feverish fans who cheered and booed every pitch. The crowds are louder, the grass is greener, the lights are brighter on October nights in the Yankee Stadium.

A surprisingly large contingent of those 56,281 fans were wearing Boston colors. Once upon a time, doing so in da Bronx was an invitation for trouble ("Hey pal, I'm gonna show you a new way to wear that hat!"), but the sucesss of the Torre dynasty and its record attendance levels have brought in a more civil — and occasionally bipartisan — clientele. My brother and I, sittting in seats 19 and 18 in our row (hehehe), had to endure the barbs of four female Boston fans directly behind us, otherwise clueless twentysomethings who kept calling Nomar and Manny "big boy," as in "Come on, big boy, let's do it!" Every time one of those Boston stars came to bat, I thought I'd stumbled upon some Beantown version of the Spice Channel.

Wakefield was virtually unhittable, allowing only two second-inning singles through the first six innings and retiring 14 straight batters as his knuckler danced. Since his last start, the Boston pitcher reportedly had gone back to basics for the mechanics on his money pitch, making sure to lock his wrist during delivery. The results paid off big time. The Yanks took impatient at-bats against Wakefield, with Derek Jeter's evening typify things. In three trips to the plate against the knuckleballer, Jeter saw exactly four pitches, producing two infield popups and a soft liner to third.

In conrast to Wakefield, Mussina continually courted disaster. After a sharp 1-2-3 first inning, he began missing high in the strike zone, throwing 14 balls in a 17-pitch span (pitching from the stretch move I call "the goddamn drinking bird") and walking David Ortiz and Trot Nixon in the second. He wriggled free, but not before expending 24 pitches in doing so. By the end of the third, he'd thrown 53 pitches.

He found real trouble in the fourth. It began innocently enough, with a Manny Ramirez chopper to the first-base side of the mound. With his follow-through carrying him the other way, Moose could only swat the ball with his glove towards Nick Johnson at first, feebly at that. Next up was David Ortiz, 0-for-21 lifetime against Mussina. Moose got ahead 0-2, but Ortiz waited him out until the count was full. Up to that point, Mussina had gone to two strikes on eight of the thirteen batters he'd faced without recording a single strikeout. He couldn't finish Ortiz off either. The big lefty slugger creamed a low-and-away fastball into the rightfield upper deck for a two-run homer.

Mussina continued to have trouble keeping the ball in the park during the fifth. Todd Walker led off with a shot that appeared to hit the rightfield foul pole. The rightfield umpire initially called the ball foul, but he was overruled by home plate ump Tim McClelland. Replays showed that the ball actually struck the glove of some wannabe Jeffery Maier, and apparently Fox made a big deal of the replay. But it looked pretty clearly as though the ball would have hit the pole anyway, making it a fair ball and thus a home run. Three batters later, Manny got into the act with his own shot to right, stretching the lead to 4-0.

Moose didn't even make it out of the sixth. Singles by Kevin Millar and Doug Mirabelli put two men aboard, and with two outs, Joe Torre called for lefty Felix Heredia to face Walker, who struggles with southpaws (a .655 OPS). Heredia got Walker to end the inning, but the Yankee bullpen faltered in the top of the seventh. With one out, Jeff Nelson came on in relief, and though he got Nomar Garciaparra to ground out meekly to catcher, the results thereafter weren't pretty. Manny singled, then Nellie hit Ortiz in the foot. A Millar single drove in Ramirez, by which time Torre had seen enough to call upon Gabe White. Trot Nixon greeted White with another single, but the lefty escaped the inning on a fielder's choice.

As it did with Minnesota pitcher Brad Radke, the seventh inning stretch, with Ronan Tynan and the looooooong version of "God Bless America," appeared to rattle Wakefield. He came into the inning on a roll, having retired 14 straight and given the Yankee crowd almost nothing to cheer about since the opening ceremonies. But he walked Jason Giambi to lead off the seventh, then walked Bernie Williams as well. Sox manager Grady Little gave Wakefield a quick hook, bringing in lefty Alan Embree.

Jorge Posada smoked Embree's second pitch into the right centerfield gap for an RBI double, with Williams holding at third as the Yankee crowd erupted. At this point the ignorance of the Sox fans behind me revealed itself. These gals had already become the butt of jokes in our section. The four of them had disappeared during the sixth inning on a beer run, but they'd left behind nearly full beers, into which a pair of ten-year-olds, at the distinct lack of discouragement by their guardian, had put peanut shells and nasty loogies. No matter; the gals came back double-fisting Bud Lights. After Posada's hit, the loudest of the women shouted out, "C'mon guys, all we need is one more run!" before her friend turned to her and reminded her that the Sox were in the field. Oops. So then the same woman shouted, "Let's go Wakefield!" despite the fact that the knuckler's night had just ended. Hmmmm, you ever watch baseball?

I hadn't engaged these women (not ladies) in any sort of taunting, but by this point I'd been nurturing a couple of good'n'filthy comeback lines — certainly no worse than theirs — waiting for the right moment. I turned around and prepared to deliver my bon mots, but as I did so, I caught the eye of the one directly behind me, an angelic blue-eyed blonde who hadn't uttered a peep all evening. We made eye contact and she smiled, at which I thought to myself that whatever vile spew I was about to unleash, she had done absolutely nothing to deserve hearing it. Looking at her, I exhaled and shook my head, deciding to just put a sock in it for the evening.

Hideki Matsui faced Embree with none out and two runners in scoring position. He got ahead in the count 2-0, but on the next pitch, he lofted a fly ball to left field — deep enough to score the run, but a bringdown nonetheless. The Yanks could do nothing to bring Posada home after that.

That was it for the scoring. White held down the Sox before giving way to Jose Contreras, who impressed by striking out the side in the ninth except for a Ramirez single, his fourth hit on the night. The Yanks mounted no challenge to either Mike Timlin or Scott Williamson, and just like that, Boston had overcome all predictions about their fatigue to jump out to a 1-0 lead in the ALCS.

Final Score: Red Sox 5, Yanks 2. Three commemorative programs, three beers, two hot dogs, half a dozen "1918" chants, several hundred obscenites, and one big white paging phone for the Curse of the Bambino. BOX SCORE